Deborah Morris 1946-2019

August 31, 2019

From the September-October 2019 issue of News & Letters

The Women’s Liberation Movement has lost another founder. Deborah Morris (Deborah Ann Farson) died on June 10, 2019, from brain cancer. Since the early 1970s she was a writer, activist and powerful thinker in the movement and in her participation with News and Letters Committees. Active in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Santa Fe, she involved herself with working-class women and delved into the emerging theoretical debates of the women’s movement.

That can be seen in two of the many articles she wrote for News & Letters. In a 1975 article, “Science seen as theoretic substitute for women’s activity,” Morris critiqued Charnie Guettel’s Marxism & Feminism for denying “the validity of an independent women’s movement when Guettel poses science and medical advances as the key to women’s liberation.” Morris points out that Marx’s theory—which Guettel claimed to follow—flowed from philosophy and also from mass uprisings:

“While Guettel wants to use some of Marx’s conclusions, she rejects his methods, and as a result, the practice of masses of women as a basis for theory is totally missing in the essay….Once women are not recognized as the force for their own liberation, then some outside force must fill that gap—for Simone de Beauvoir it is men, for Juliet Mitchell it is the party, and for Guettel it is science. In contrast, a philosophy of liberation which recognizes the necessity of an independent women’s movement as key to the liberation of women also sees women as whole human beings—their own force for revolution.”

Morris’ February 1973 article, “ERA backlash at Norris,” reveals her attitude to working-class women. “The letter” that Norris Industries wrote explaining their excuse for eliminating rest periods for women, Deborah wrote, “implies Norris is doing the only thing it can do. They ignore the possibility that protective legislation governing women’s working conditions could be extended to men…but production and profit govern Norris’ actions, not civil rights.”

Deborah extends her critique of Norris to a part of the movement that ignored working women: “The Equal Rights Amendment was supposed to be part of a movement towards a new human society. But such a movement by necessity must include the ideas and involvement of minority and non-professional working women…in a class society such as ours, the E.R.A. will have a class nature. Under capitalism this means that non-professional working women will be equally exploited along with men at the point of production.

When Jane Alpert in 1973 opined in her “Mother Right: A New Feminist Theory” that she would no longer mourn “42 male chauvinists,” that is, the 42 men prisoners who were brutally gunned down at Attica prison, Deborah angrily responded in an article titled “Alpert’s ‘Mother Right’: racist, anti-theory“:

There is no attempt [by Alpert] at all to show us the creative roles that women have played in our freedom struggle or in the freedom struggles of others. Instead, she would limit us to a cultural revolution based on ‘Mother Right,’ and that is to define women in the same narrow way that male society has always done, rather than seeing women as part of the quest for universality.”

The “quest for universality” marked Deborah’s life. Be it politics, science, art, nature—including gardening—or the struggle of people for full freedom, she made that part of her path. Everyone who knew her will miss her—and the movement is poorer without her.

—Terry Moon

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